643) Glimpses of C. S. Lewis’ Life

All (except the last) of the following quotes are from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III:


TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On the follies, miseries, and temptations of being a young, single adult (1 August 1953):

Yes, I too think there is lots to be said for being no longer young:  and I do most heartily agree that it is just as well to be past the age when one expects or desires to attract the other sex.  It’s natural enough in our species, as in others, that the young birds should show off their plumage– in the mating season.  But the trouble in the modern world is that there’s a tendency to rush all the birds on to that age as soon as possible and then keep them there as late as possible, thus losing all the real value of the other parts of life in a senseless, pitiful attempt to prolong what, after all, is neither its wisest, its happiest, or most innocent period.  I suspect merely commercial motives are behind it all: for it is at the showing-off age that birds of both sexes have least sales resistance!


TO PETER BIDE: On bereavement after the death of Lewis’ wife (14 July 1960).

Joy died at 10 o’clock last night. I was alone with her at the moment, but she was not conscious.  I had never seen the moment of natural death before…

I can’t understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis.  A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell (Lewis had been hit by a shell in World War I).

I’d like to meet.  Perhaps I could come up to town some day when you are in town and take you to lunch at the Athenaeum.  For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now.  One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness.  To be happy one must be tied.


TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On being overconcerned about the past of others and of our own (5 June 1961):

We must beware of the Past, mustn’t we?  I mean that any fixing of the mind on old evils beyond what is absolutely necessary for repenting our own sins and forgiving those of others is certainly useless and usually bad for us…  This is one of the dangers of being, like you and me, old. There’s so much past, now, isn’t there?  And so little else.  But we must try very hard not to keep on endlessly chewing the cud.  We must look forward more eagerly to sloughing that old skin off forever– metaphors getting a bit mixed here, but you know what I mean.


TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE, On the experience of forgiving… and, on the tedium of dying. (6 July 1963).

I fully admit that as regards your daughter’s husband you have been set as difficult a job in the forgiving line as can well be imagined.  Do you know, only a few weeks ago I realized suddenly that I at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood.  I’d been trying to do it for years:  and like you, each time I thought I’d done it, I found, after a week or so it all had to be attempted over again.  But this time I feel sure it is the real thing.  And (like learning to swim or to ride a bicycle) the moment it does happen it seems so easy and you wonder why on earth you didn’t do it years ago.  So the parable of the unjust judge comes true, and what has been vainly asked for years can suddenly be granted.  I also get a quite new feeling about ‘If you forgive you will be forgiven.’ I don’t believe it is, as it sounds, a bargain.  The forgiving and the being forgiven are really the very same thing.  But one is safe as long as one keeps on trying…

How terribly long these days and hours are for you.  Even I, who am in a bed of roses now compared with you, feel it a bit.  I live in almost total solitude, never properly asleep by night (all loathsome dreams), and constantly falling asleep by day.  I sometimes feel as if my mind were decaying.  Yet, in another mood, how short our whole past life begins to seem!  Well, we shall get out of it all sooner or later, for even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.


The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity’. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on– including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction.  The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them:  afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them.  The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become– and so on in a vicious circle for ever.

Good and evil both increase at compound interest.  That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.  The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.  An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today, is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.  —Mere Christianity


Isaiah 46:4  —  (The Lord says),”Even to your old age and gray hair I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Philippians 3:12b-14  —  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

John 7:17  —  (Jesus said),  “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”


PRAYER BY LEWIS BASED ON JOHN 7:17 (from Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II, March 18, 1952):

Almighty God, who art the Father of lights and who has promised by thy dear Son that all who do thy will shall know thy doctrine: give me grace so to live that by daily obedience I daily increase in faith and in the understanding of thy Holy Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.